The measles vaccine given to high-risk workers could make COVID-19 cases less severe — and therefore more survivable, argue microbiologists in a new opinion piece.

There is growing evidence that live, attenuated vaccines commonly given in childhood may temporarily protect against infections that they aren’t designed to treat, according to Paul Fidel Jr., Ph.D., from Louisiana State University. These immunizations “train” immune cells to react against subsequent infections. When children receive the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, for example, it appears to help prevent other infections too — for about a year afterward.

Based on research to date, a nationwide clinical trial with the MMR vaccine in healthcare workers is warranted, the authors claim. It could test whether the vaccine could serve as temporary protection against lung inflammation and sepsis associated with COVID-19 mortality, while the world awaits an effective COVID-19 vaccination or antiviral, they suggest.

A clinical trial would be a “low-risk, high-reward measure,” write Fidel Jr. and colleague Mairi C. Noverr, Ph.D., from Tulane University. The vaccine is known to be safe for people who have a healthy immune system and who are not pregnant. Used in the way the researchers propose and if their hypothesis is correct, the vaccine may help lead to better outcomes in people who contract the coronavirus. It is not a vaccine against the disease or a cure, they caution.

The opinion was published in the online journal mBio, a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.